How Much Should Groceries Cost?

I was talking to a neighbor about our grocery expenditures, and she was shocked when I told her we spent just $175 a month for my family of three. She has one more child than I do, but she spends almost $1000! Her astonishment made me wonder if this $175 figure was still accurate. After all, it had been a couple years since I tracked all my purchases. Back in May of 2009, I wrote about saving money on organic groceries. Then, in My Shopping Lists: Saving Money at the Grocery Store, I revealed exactly what that $175 got me.

So, last April (in 2011) I tracked my purchases again—and I shelled out $280! That’s a 60% increase in just two years! Now, according to the USDA food plans (updated in 2011), we’re still doing well. A family like ours (a man and woman in their thirties, plus a five-year-old child) would pay $450.80 a month on food on their “thrifty plan.”

Do You Have a Favorite Grocery Store?

Does your favorite supermarket or farmer’s market meet all your needs?  Mine doesn’t, but I love it nonetheless!

Trader Joe’s always delights me as a mother, an eater, a frugalista, and a tree hugger. The concept of a shop stocked with almost completely generic, high quality products is revolutionary!  Prices are usually reasonable, products are creative, but the abundance of packaging and the small serving sizes aren’t ideal.  Still, I do visit once a month or so to stock up on cereal, granola bars, and other prepared foods.  They aren’t always organic, but they aren’t packed with corn syrup and preservatives like other mainstream brands.

Saving Money on Organic Groceries

I spend $175 a month on groceries for my small family of three.  I wrote about spending less on groceries in this post about eating meat-free.  Several people (okay, two people) asked me how I manage to pull this off.  According the USDA’s “thrifty” meal plan, a family with a man, woman, and three-year-old would spend $414.20 per month.  (We’d spend $800 on the “liberal” plan!)  So it seems that we are spending less than half of what other “thrifty” eaters are spending–and we eat mostly organic food!

This is a bit puzzling to me, as we don’t do anything too extraordinary to save money on food.  I haven’t planted a garden since two summers ago (and it was a failure), I don’t clip coupons, and I don’t shop at Costco or other huge warehouse stores.  I also buy many expensive ingredients, like olive oil, nuts, and fancy cheese.  If I had to, I could save even more money if I got better at gardening, stopped buying organic foods, and cut out a few costlier items on my grocery list.